The swimming pools argued that a swim suit that covers the whole body is not allowed for hygienic reasons or triggers safety concerns. The swimming pool Ter Wallen in Merelbeke put it like this on their public board: "Burkinis are not allowed for hygienic or ecological reasons." The other swimming pool concerned is the Van Eyck pool in the centre of Ghent.
Two Muslim women who were refused because they wanted to wear a burkini, took the matter to court. A ban would be a sort of discrimination, and the arguments concerning hygiene and safety do not apply here, the judge ruled.
The case was not solid enough to wipe out the discrimination issue
Professor Eva Brems, a human rights specialist who prepared the argumentation for the two women, explains: "There would be no discrimination if you have very solid case which includes strong other arguments, but this is not the case here. It's been scientifically proved that a body-covering suit which is made of the same material as other swim suits, is not less hygienic. As for the safety argument, there was nothing concrete either. The argument "neutrality" also does not apply."
The ruling is a first for Belgium, even though the discussion is not new. The Gent pools will have to adapt their rules immediately, even when they decide to appeal against the ruling. The State Secretary for Equal Opportunities Zuhal Demir (N-VA) is not happy with the ruling; she says "the burkini symbolises the oppression of women."
City of Ghent wants to encourage swimming, gives ruling thumbs up
In a reaction, the city of Ghent said that it supports the ruling: "Body-covering suits should be allowed, as long as it is hygienic and safe. We want to get as many people swimming and doing physical exercise as possible." The main condition is that the suits are tight enough around the body.
"We also receive questions from transgenders or women who have just been operated on to wear body-covering suits", adds the Ghent Alderwoman for Equal Opportunities Resul Tapmaz. So this should not be just a matter of religion, she adds.